Strange Logic in Stop the War Coalition
SOME strange logic seems to be operating at the highest level in the Stop the War Coalition in Britain. It concerns the continued exclusion from this otherwise broad front of Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), a campaigning organisation committed to opposing both the Islamicist regime in Tehran and the threat of imperialist war against Iran.
As you might expect, an important element in HOPI are Iranians themselves, such as members of Iranian Workers Left Unity, who are in contact both with clandestine left-wing activists at home and Iranian refugees overseas. They welcome growing unrest against Ahmadinejad and his government, but they don't see it as any excuse for Iran's enemies to make war, or wage sanctions which hit ordinary people and not the regime.
I am proud to know these comrades, and pleased to have been elected on to HOPI's steering committee two years in a row. Like most HOPI members, indeed all the ones I can think of, I have also been a supporter of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception, albeit often a critical one. Indeed, some more illustrious names than mine which have lent themselves to HOPI will also be familiar as supporters to Stop the War: Veteran parliamentarian Tony Benn, film-maker Ken Loach, MPs John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, writers Haifa Zangana and Naomi Klein, to name but a few, who would be welcome on any anti-war platform.
All the same, there have been problems with the Stop the War Coalition and Iran. As we saw when a group of Iranian exiles took a bold initiative in support of the anti-war movement in 2005. As they wrote to Stop the War then:
You are aware that in an act of protest against the threats of military intervention by US and its allies in Iran, five Iranian asylum seekers have set off on foot from Birmingham on 12th of March to join the national anti war demonstration in London on 19th of March. They are undertaking this action both to highlight and oppose the US threats against Iran and to appeal to progressive and freedom loving people in Britain to support their struggle against the barbaric Islamic regime in Iran.
We phoned your office on Friday 11th of March to ask for support for the protest walk and to ask about the possibility of a representative from the walk to say a few words from the platform at the end of the march. We were told to explain our position and upon my explanation we were told that Stop the War Coalition "cannot allow any statement against the Islamic regime in Iran from the platform".
We see ourselves as part of a movement for democracy in Iran that is moving towards overthrowing the reactionary Islamic regime. We see any intervention or even threats of intervention by the US and its allies against Iran as detrimental for our movement. We will vehemently oppose and resist such intervention. The reality of our movement is such that we can not drop our opposition to the Iranian regime because of the threats by the USA or drop our opposition to US threats because of the barbarity of the Islamic regime.
It would surely have been a boost to that rally even to hear that a group of Iranian asylum seekers had braved Middle England and walked from Birmingham to be there. Perhaps STWC leaders lacked the imagination to see that, or someone in the office thought it would be too much for the punters to grasp that you could be both against the regime and against imperialist war? Stop the War's Andrew Murray denied knowledge of what had happened, but nor would he look into it, though he claimed there was no ban on criticism of the Iranian regime.
Then Hands Off the People of Iran was set up, and applied to affiliate to the Stop the War Coalition, and submit a motion for conference. So did Communist Students, a new group loosely linked with the Communist Party of Great Britain, though autonomous. On the day of the final deadline for motions and nominations for the Coalition’s leadership (October 12, 2007), both organisations were sent emails from the StWC chair, Andrew Murray, tersely informing them that they were barred.
Sent: Friday, 12 October, 2007 11:46:27 AM
Subject: Your application to affiliate to StWC
The Officers of StWC have received your application to affiliate to the Coalition and have decided to decline it.
A study of statements and articles issued by your organisation show that you are entirely hostile to the Coalition, its policies and its work. Nor is there any record of your supporting our activity and initiatives. Under these circumstances, it is impossible to regard your application as in any way supportive or sympathetic.
Your will therefore not be able to send a delegation to our annual conference, nor will any resolutions or nominations for office you may have submitted be valid.
We will refund any monies that may have been paid in respect of affiliation as rapidly as possible. This decision will be reported to the next meeting of the Steering Committee.
National Chair StWC
Yassamine Mather, a prominent exiled Iranian socialist, member of Workers Left Unity Iran and founder member of HOPI asked what was being implied here?
“Hopi’s founding statement has two core elements. First, total and unconditional opposition to any imperialist attack on Iran. No doubt, the StWC officers have no problem with that. Second, we are clear that this implies no support or softening of our attitude to the Ahmadinejad regime. We make no apology for telling the truth that Iran is a foully oppressive society. We are totally opposed to Bush-style regime change - but we are positively for democracy from below, for the working people of that country to take the running of their society into their own hands!
“Is it this that makes us ‘hostile’ organisations in the eyes of some StWC officials?”
Despite such straightforward questions, the Stop the War leadership has avoided straightforward answers, though I suspect that off record some Stop the War activists could be relied upon to spread the word that HOPI is some kind of imperialist pro-war plot, and they have managed to keep HOPI out. (Ironically, the Alliance for Workers Liberty, with which some have tried to lump us, has tried to keep its members away from HOPI, perhaps for the opposite reason. They presumably share our opposition to the Islamic regime, albeit with important differences, so perhaps it is our opposition to war they have problems with? ) In reality, of course, since HOPI members and supporters were already involved in Stop the War, and there have been no expulsions - as yet - what are being kept out are the name and ideas.
If you admit that HOPI has a place within the Coalition, other people might think of joining it. And in fact, while the doors have stayed shut, HOPI has continued to gain support, from trade unions and trades union councils, for instance, and had it reconfirmed overwhelmingly from the left-wing Labour Representation Committee.
Within the last year, what's more, we might have expected some possible change in Stop the War. The Socialist Workers' Party, a major influence in the Coalition, has seemed to acknowledge that the massive unrest on Iran's streets and campuses was a genuine movement, if anything perhaps relating to its middle class rather than working class element. The Morning Star has published criticism of the Islamic regime's neo-liberal economic policies by Iranian communists, people to whom Stop the War's Andrew Murray might be expected to pay attention. (Murray is a member of the Communist Party of Britain). The differences between Stop the War's Lindsey German and the Socialist Workers Party are a bit obscure (she quit her long-time party in a row ostensibly over her going to a Stop the War meeting in the North East when asked not to) but one might have hoped this would lead to a bit of loosening up.
Anyway, HOPI decided to give it a go, asking -not for the first time - for a discussion - as follows:
We are writing to clarify what stage we are at in the relations between the Stop the War Coalition and Hands Off the People of Iran. We have exchanged a number of emails on the issue of our affiliation, and have been waiting since February for a reply to the last email we sent you.
Could we once again suggest that we organise a meeting between representatives of our respective organisations to discuss this matter?
Given that there has been some limited and informal co-operation between us (our recent solidarity screenings of Jafar Panahi's film Offside, for example, were publicised by the Central London StWC blog and attended by leading StWC activists in Glasgow) we should meet to discuss this issue as soon as possible.
Yours in solidarity
HOPI Steering Committee
Alas, it seems the committee was over-optimistic. Here is the reply they have received.
We have explained several times in previous correspondence that we can see no value in any meeting between StWC and HOPOI until/unless you are able to clarify your attitude towards our Coalition.
As you will be aware, our last two national conferences overwhelmingly rejected your application for affiliation to StWC, so I cannot see why you should be unclear as to “the stage we are at in relations” between yourself and the Coalition.
The main reason for the decision of conference was undoubtedly the remarks made by your national secretary, Mark Fischer, concerning StWC which he has never sought to retract, and which your organisation has never sought to dissociate itself from. Specifically, Mark said (all quotes from the Weekly Worker) that “there is no space within the STWC for us to fight for principled politics against the pernicious second-campism of the SWP”, that “an important goal is to establish a viable alternative political centre to the rotten politics of the Stop the War Coalition” and that “HOPI is a step towards the task of putting organisational muscle on the CPGB body politic.”
Given the position Mark holds in HOPOI, and HOPOI’s de facto endorsement of his attitude towards StWC, it should be clear that there can be no realistic basis for our collaborating politically, even if we could find common ground in campaigning priorities.
Lindsey German, Convenor
Andrew Murray, Chair
I like that "Best Wishes"! You are the enemy, but there's no reason why we shouldn't be friendly about it!
Clearly, there have been changes. Before we were told that they had made an extensive study of statements and articles issued by HOPI and discovered that we were entirely hostile to the Coalition, its policies and its work. Now it appears they have merely sifted through back copies of Weekly Worker, the organ of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and found a couple of phrases they dislike from Mark Fischer. Not that they have got around to expelling this Mark Fischer, or banning the Communist Party of Great Britain for what he said, mind you.
Stop the War is a broad coalition, stretching from Lib Dems who thought the occupation of Iraq might be OK if it was under a UN flag, to "Marxist-Leninists" (Maoists) calling for "Victory to the Iraqi Resistance". If everyone started sifting through papers to find objectionable things that others had said... well, I doubt whether Peter Tatchell of the Green Party (and HOPI!) would need to go that far to remember things that George Galloway has said, whether on TV or from Stop the War platforms. And then where would we be?
But HOPI can be barred, because apparently we are just a front for the CPGB (where else would those Iranians get their own ideas from about the Islamicist regime?); and even if we had never seen what Mark Fischer wrote we are collectively guilty, like the Palestinians in Gaza, in our case, guilty of "de facto endorsement" of what he said! I am not even sure I understand what Mark is supposed to have meant, let alone what "de facto endorsement" of it means. I don't see how HOPI is supposed to "clarify its attitude" if we can't even meet for a discussion. If Mark Fischer was saying there is no space to fight for principled politics within the Stop the War Coalition, it seems that Lindsey German and Andrew Murray are the ones determined to endorse that!
If it is true as alleged (in Wikipedia) that Andrew Murray has been an admirer of Stalin, I imagine the latter might agree with the "de facto endorsement" concept. Lindsey German hails from an ostensibly quite different tradition, one which long had the "Neither Washington nor Moscow" slogan on its papers. I'm all for unity, but whatever has united these two I can't believe it reflects the way most people in the Stop the War Coalition think.